It’s definite. I love London. It’s got lots of things to love – history for historians, old buildings for old building lovers, cutesy little green spaces all hedgerow and flowers, large green commons for walking the dog or playing team sport, young people dashing about going places dressed in their business suit best and many of those same young people overflowing out of pubs on to pavements at the end of a hectic day, cyclists merging with the rushing noisy traffic, the underground rumbling commuters from place to place, theaters with musicals, plays and orchestras. It’s just a happening place. And I love it. Now.
My first visit to London wasn’t what I would call inspiring. But that may be because we were travelling on a budget. We arrived into Victoria Station all those years ago at rush hour with our overlarge bags (we weren’t experienced budget travelers at that point) and were overwhelmed by the numbers of people hurrying down escalators, that we learnt quickly to stand to the side of, crushing onto the trains, that we found ourselves sweltering in, and racing through turnstiles, that we learnt just as quickly couldn’t fit large bags. Knowing I was holding up the hurrying, scurrying masses was an unpleasant feeling.
We stumbled out of the station thinking, ‘What the hell was that!’ After catching our breath and regrouping we headed off to find our lodgings. A boarding house. A dirty, grimey, yukky place it turned out to be – much worse than what I expected from the word ‘budget’.
We had a small room up a number of flights of stairs (not good with big luggage), with two single wire wove beds and flat, well used looking mattresses barely covered by old, thin scratchy looking bedding. They were the sort of beds that made you lift up the sheets with the tips of two nervous fingers while holding your breathe to look for giant, scuttling bed bugs.
Having just arrived and in need of the loo I got my first look at the bathroom and went ‘EEWWwwww’. It was the size of a closet, smelled of something indescribable coming off the damp floor (having obviously recently been used), with soft, rotting springy floor boards that looked like, at any moment, you could fall through them. And mold was climbing up the walls and literally hanging down from the ceiling. Peeing was put on hold as we decided the nearest pub would be a better place to find relief and refocus ourselves with a good beer or two.
We had a grand old time at the pub and felt like a bit of a stroll to get familiar with our surrounds before returning to our divey digs for a warm cardi (as the air was beginning to cool) and heading out for dinner. Yellow police tape surrounded the property. Fellow lodgers were sitting on neighbouring steps looking slightly shocked and bemused. Apparently there had been an altercation in one of the rooms in our lodgings (possibly over the crappy state of the place) and one disputant had thrown the other out the window from the top floor. Yep, we had picked a real doozy budget place to stay!
It was decided by the step dwellers, ably supported by The Husband, that we should head to the pub because no one in authoritative looking uniforms could determine how long we would be kept out of our rooms. So we spent a good deal more of a grand old time down at the pub with the people we had just met on the steps who hailed from around the world and who, like us, were on a budget, were only in London for a short while and were somewhat shocked by the state of the lodge and disturbed by recent events.
The next day while out sightseeing a group of men who were, I was told later by someone who was presumably well informed, likely gypsies from Europe, attempted to surround my husband and take his money while we were on a train. He did not take kindly to that at all and they underestimated his athleticism. After a push and a shove and a bit of attention attracting noise, they moved off while he kept a hold on our money.
Like I said, my first trip to London town did not exactly endear this city to me.